Trip Report United Arab Emirates – Jonas country#66/196 – revisit Ava, Charlotte & Jakob

The United Arab Emirates offers ‘ruler suites’ and gold coffee at one of the world’s finest hotels. Water slides with shark tubes. Highway intersections looking like shredded lettuce. Shopping malls with exhibition objects so extravagant that they exceed those at many of the world’s museums. Join us on our soaring hot summer ride on the Arabian Peninsula where we visit hotels in the price range between $200 and $200,000 per night.

Our arrival in Dubai is not easy. We have been up since 4 am in the morning and have been on the move for six hours already  as we arrive in Dubai’s Terminal 2. The outside temperature is close to 50 degrees. Terminal 2 is Dubai’s low-cost terminal used by FlyDubai. Maybe that is why no one has bothered to fill Dirhams in the 5 different ATMs in the Arrivals Hall and maybe it is also why there is no free shuttle bus to Terminal 1 where we are to pick up our Budget rental car. Instead, we take a taxi.

From inside the taxi we get our first taste of Dubai’s wild traffic. The highways typically have 6-7 lanes in each direction and as the roads intersect, the many lanes branch almost instantaneously leaving a road network that, viewed from above, looks a bit like looking down on a bowl of cooked spaghetti. The lanes seem to disappear randomly right and left, up bridges and down tunnels and even confusingly there are numerous exits to slow city roads running parallel to each highway. Soon I will be out there navigating these chaotic roads myself.

At Budget car rental, there is a long queue. After a long wait Vijayender – possibly the world’s slowest Indian person – fills out all the insurance papers certifying that we are allowed to bring our car to Oman. In this situation it is very fortunate indeed that we are not very tired, the children are not impatient at all, we are not super hungry, and it is also not particularly hot outside. With the GPS plugged in and with its navigation volume turned up on ultra-max, we soon throw our fine white Chevrolet Aveo out into the afternoon traffic. Already at the exit to the airport we don’t know which way to go. The GPS is barking orders that seem not to match the actual airport exit roadmap. By some miracle we still somehow manage to go the right way. I can’t remember ever being this tired and at the same time having so many options as when we shortly after reach the first highway intersection. Fearing this I have chosen a hotel only 5 kilometres from the airport. But with 4 massive highway intersections the actual distance is around twice that. There are exit lanes everywhere – right and left, up on bridges, down through tunnels – and at one time I manage to position myself in the wrong side and has to switch 7 highway lanes almost momentarily. Almost miraculously we manage to arrive unharmed to our nice Premier Inn hotel in the new area of Al Jaddaf. This is where we stay for the bargain price of only 30 USD a night (special summer family rate, 4 beds, rooftop pool).

Our drive the next day to Abu Dhabi is comparatively easy. Most other traffic is inbounded towards Dubai and we easily head straight out of town. The highway goes straight to the iconic and white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque is the biggest in the country and houses up to 40.000 people praying and was constructed at a total cost of USD 545 million USD. From the parking lot there in an underground shopping arcade(!) – fully airconditioned of course – leading to the main entrance of the mosque (very handy for anyone looking to buy a large souvenir camel on the way).

A speeding ticket later (90 USD – apparently half price compared to Dubai – then again in Dubai I would have never had one because it is only in Abu Dhabi that speeding of just 1 km/t over the limit gives you a fine) we arrive at The Emirates Palace – one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. Here a coffee with ’23-karat gold flakes’ costs 72 AED (18USD). After I have cheekily mentioned what a huge amount of social media followers I have they agree to give us a free tour of the premises. We see the ‘Diamond suite’ (6.000 USD pr night) and visit a Royal Khaleej Suite (265 m2 and with gold and marble everywhere). The top suites are called ‘ruler suites’ – they are off limits to ordinary tourists and even to most hotel staff and apparently only used for royalty and heads of state. The hotel also has a long private beach with free rides on their house camels – an area that is also not available to nosy day tourists like us.

After our tour of Oman, we visit the Atlantis hotel in Dubai. We spend a glorious (but incredibly hot) day in their fantastic Aquaventure water park (see separate previous facebook post) and then see their excellent Lost Chambers Aquarium. Among other things, the water park has a roller coaster where you are eventually shot through a transparent plastic tube while surrounded by live sharks. Also, on our tour of Atlantis we are only minutes from being allowed to see the iconic ‘Bridge Suite’ – the hotel’s top and most expensive suite. Here in the off-season, it costs a ‘modest’ $30,000 per night  (the suite often features in listings of the world’s most expensive hotel rooms and in 2002 it was, according to some media reports, the overall most expensive hotel room worldwide). Unfortunately, the super-rich Chinese who will be staying in the suite arrives a little earlier than planned so we miss seeing the world’s formerly most expensive hotel room.

For years Charlotte has wanted us to buy jewelry in Dubai. A huge industry here with more than 150 people working full time fitting and polishing etc. in a factory right behind the gold souq. We may have paid too much because at the end we are offered a free 22 km ride with a driver to our hotel. The same night we meet up with friendly Daniel and his sweet wife Rianda (from SA/NZ but both living and working in Dubai). They are friends through the Every Passport Stamp the facebook group and have kindly agreed to meet us at the bar at our hotel (where the kids can sleep in our room while we sit at the bar). Another great meeting with fellow travelers with the same crazy travel urge as ours.

On our last full day in Dubai we visit the Dubai Mall. According to Wikipedia it is the second largest mall in the world (by geographical area). Of course, it hosts a complete Ice Rink, a model of Dubai by night hanging from the ceiling, lots of art and one of the worlds most expensive and most complete (90% original material) Dinosaur skeletons (on auction now – starting price USD 4 million).

While browsing through the mall I get a call from the largest talk show on Danish television inviting me to be a part of tonight’s show with two other guests – one of these being the Danish Prime Minister(!). Being in another country I offer to join the show a few days later instead. In the end they offer me to do a recorded interview to be featured on tonight’s show. We hurry home and run to the roof top terrace to record it – the sun is out – it’s the middle of the day – it is soaring hot – I am not allowed to wear sunglasses and I cant see the person who interviews me since Charlotte has turned my iPhone around in order to film me. After five minutes of course the iPhone shuts down due to overheating. A few (hectic) minutes later we are up and running again (from an iPad). But I don’t think I perform very well in the heat and with all the stress (and I never quite understand why we couldn’t just wait a few days and do a proper live interview – but hey the media always gets to decide).

Desert Safaris from Dubai normally cost between 60-120 USD. I have done a similar trip before and suspect them to be all exactly the same – so I just book the very cheapest one I can find online. I book via WhatsApp and the trip costs only 30 USD per person. The trip includes an hour’s transportation each way, a nice dinner, non-alcoholic drinks galore, dunebashing in special built 4WD – and a bit of sandboarding, henna tattooing, camel riding and a fire show on a big round stage in the middle of the desert camp. A bit touristic but fun. And while a lot of things are (very) expensive in Dubai – a 30 USD pp. desert safari and a 30 USD a night family hotel room is certainly cheap.

While we are speeding through the dunes in our purpose built 4WD I get an SMS from the Danish talk show informing me that my two minutes of fame has gone down the drain. The Prime Minister needs more time so they have cut me out. Somewhat annoying but later it turns out lucky because instead I get to go on the talk show of the competing channel named TV2 (second largest Danish TV station). There I get the chance to bring Charlotte and propose to her on live TV. And that probably wouldn’t have happened if I had already told my (recorded) story on DR1.

The biggest of metal birds – the Airbus 380 – smoothly brings us home. I get to lie down on 4 seats and never have I had such a comfortable bed on a flight. I have no idea that a surprise party of 30 people are awaiting us in our garden in the same afternoon after we have returned home. And no idea how many Danish newspapers, radio and TV-stations that will interview me in the coming weeks.

Price Examples:

  • Hotel Premier Inn Dubai Al Jaddaf – hotel, 4 persons pr night USD 30
  • Car rental (Budget): Chevrolet Aveo. 7-days rental USD 150, surcharge Oman DKK USD 45, insurance Oman USD 70, Extra insurance/road side assistance in Oman USD 90 – total: USD 355.
  • 1 litre of petrol in Oman and UAE: 50 cents
  • Desert Safari – 5,5 time incl dune bashing, transportation, activities, food – USD 30 pr person.
  • Taxi ride – 15 km – USD 12.
  • Non-discounted entrance fee for Atlantis Aquaventure or Burj Khalifa viewing platform: USD 95 each.

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